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Sunday, 26 September 2021


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When to zoom? When you are in a setting you do not control.

I do a lot of events and trade shows which are a subset of or at least related to "street photography". A longish shot is often required to document the event and people without getting in everybody's way. A short/wide focal length is key for the images of groups and to show the size of the event.

And of course there are always surprises/opportunities ... usually when you have the wrong lens on.

Carrying a bag of gear around a crowded room for hours results in a cranky photographer.

I started shooting when zooms hadn't evolved to the point of their being equal to primes. So, I cut my teeth on multiple primes, the standard being a trilogy of a 50mm with bookends of a wide and telephoto, 35mm and 135mm in my case.

Of course today zooms are great, fully the equal of the primes that they cover. The problem in my opinion is that those that never learned about perspective and the importance of getting all the elements in the scene in proper relationship with each other by moving yourself ... and then using the zoom to capture that scene with the variable framing that the zoom offers are just missing the capability that they hold in their hands.

I'd guess that most new shooters have 90% of their shots at one end or the other of the zoom range. The experienced shooter will first move and then frame with the final zoom setting being some in-between focal length that renders the best picture.

All that said, today I use primes, usually only one on an outing. I have one zoom for my Fujis, and it is very nice optically, but it rarely comes out with me.

If only Fuji made something like an 18-135mm zoom, which would probably need to be F3.5-5.6 to keep it reasonably sized, ideally with OIS. Yeah, right, dream on.

Oh, wait...


Yes indeed. Practitioners of so-called ‘general photography’ love zooms. I’ve tried - oh, so many times! - to take a camera and just one prime lens with me on a walk around the area where I live (just off the eastern side of the Peak District national park in the UK) and I always regret doing so. I’ve got some good, even very good images with the lens I’ve taken, but I also feel that I’ve missed the opportunity of so many more.

For me, 24-105mm is about the ideal - I do like that slightly longer focal length. I had one as part of a Canon FF system, but it all became too heavy; I now use a Canon APS-C system where my go-to lens is a Sigma 17-70. That’s about 27-112mm equivalent on Canon APS-C, and I do miss that 3mm on the wide end. I must admit that after more than 30 years of using Canon EOS cameras, I’m looking at that Fujifilm 16-80mm with interest….

While the Olympus 12-100mm f4 is very good in many respects, my copy at least suffers from multi-coloured twinkles around masses of tree branches and the like especially if exposed to the right. Moire? At any rate my 12-40mm f2.8 does not have this so I’ve returned to it. Yes, the 12-100mm solves many problems but there’s no free lunch and that extra stop on the 12-40mm can make all the difference at indoor events. TBH I prefer primes and the discipline they bring.

Yes Mike, no other subjects are more restless than landscapes. Often you have to act very quickly. Once you missed the decisive moment you’re done. Will the moment ever return? Next year maybe at the same time of year in similar conditions?

I am a huge fan of primes as well, but last year I bought the small m.Zuiko 12-45mm f/4. Still feels a bit like cheating but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Strangely enough the heavier 12-40mm f/2.8 never appealed to me. Small differences can be important. The 12-100mm f/4 has incredible specs and it's according to the users good at all focal lengths. With an Olympus body you’ll have un unbeatable double stabilization. The only thing held me from buying it is that I don’t want to be caught with that thing fully extended in front of me. In addition to my shorter zoom I got a secondhand m.Zuiko 40-150mm f/4-5.6 that’s also quite good for the 95 euros I payed for it. And light enough to take along whenever I feel for it, even if my bag is already packed with three or four other Micro 4/3 lenses. Almost 100% chance that the 17mm f/1.2 PRO is one of them, until that recently announced 40mm f/1.4 becomes available.

Zooms are not what they were in the film days. Digital sensors are not what they were in the early digicam days. Camera processors and firmware are light years beyond even 10 years ago.

Just outfit your newest APS-C camera with a zoom that covers your focal length preferences, no need to get picky about constant apertures, and you're set.

I use zooms and primes. The image stabilization of f the gf 45-100 combined with the ibis of the 100s makes for the perfect combo when I need to handhold.

I love primes, but for several reasons, I mostly use zooms these days.

The primary reason is because they typically project an oversize image circle across a (sometimes surprisingly large) portion of their focal length range.

This is essential for my purposes, because when they're used with my FrankenKameras, this allows for at least a modest amount of rear rise / fall movement at every focal length, with every lens, not just selected lenses, as would be the case if I used traditional T/S lenses instead.

Another reason is because I prefer to photograph on foot -- no "drive-by shooting" for me! -- and often walk several miles over the course of an outing. As a result, I prefer to carry the least amount of weight possible and a single zoom is almost always lighter than several primes.

Finally, I'm on a tight budget these days and a zoom will usually cost less (sometimes a lot less!) than an assortment of primes.

For all these reasons and more, I've concluded that potentially sacrificing a small amount of image quality is a more than fair trade for the additional functionality and convenience a good zoom provides in return.

I deal with this question daily and I have different answers on different days. I have a couple "favorite ways" to shoot.

I love roaming a job with a fast 35mm prime on one body and an 85mm prime on the other. (Sony A9II and A6600 are my current bodies) I feel like for almost all situations, I can work those two lenses to get what I need. Both cameras are light. I can shoot with shallow dof if I want and I know the image quality will be excellent even printing large.

But there is an incredibly liberation feeling that I get when I roam around with the Sony RX10IV. This camera is the "size" of a small DSLR or mirrorless but is very light. Factor in that it then has the ff equiv. of a 24-600mm lens range (F2.8-F4) and it is ridiculously light and convenient. I am consistently dumbfounded at the image quality rendered by this lens with this 1" sensor. If you don't need shallow dof and you don't need great performance in low light, this camera is incredible.

Sometimes I wonder why I just don’t sell everything but my Sony Rx100Vii. 24-200 decently sharp lens, near pro autofocus. The camera, spare battery and filter holder fit into a very small belt pouch. The images look great on my iPad and if one does not mind shooting casual head and shoulder portraits @ 150-200mm than you can actually obtain a fair amount of background blur.

I have a video cage that never gets used but do utilize a wood handle grip that screws to the tripod mount that not only looks good but makes that little bar of soap far more enjoyable to use without adding much size. I guess your Olympus 12-100 comment reminded me I have such a focal length already.

While I have mostly gone over to Fuji, I still have and really like my OM-D E-M1 and my 12-40mm. I spent a little over a year shooting 35mme almost exclusively (Not quite OC/OL/OY, but close). That experience sort of turned my 12-40mm into a tri-elmar. I set it to 17 or 18mm and when I lifted the camera, I either left it there, or turned it to 12 or 40. After each shot, I put it back to 35mme.

My Fuji kit is a 14mm, 23mm f/2, 35mm f/2 and the 50-140mm zoom. While I genuinely like this setup, I have to admit that I am really tempted by the 16-80mm f/4 zoom.

I guess one primary argument in favor of zooms is that very often (in my experience) you cannot move to the place you would like to be for the desired distance and framing of a shot, even with a few different primes. For example, roads with fences on the side so you can't get closer or farther, a swamp you don't want to wade into, a waterfall in the middle distance that you can't fly halfway to...

Yes, with a range of primes, you can often get more or less what you want in terms of framing, and then crop, but that is not optimal. And like many, I no longer want to carry a variety of separate (possibly heavy) lenses everywhere. Also, in many places, changing lenses will introduce dust onto the sensor which will need attention from time to time. Or edit time spent in removing the little dots.

So I got a Sony A7III and a Sony 24 - 240 zoom. I am quite happy with it. No problem to make prints on 17x22 paper. I have no need for bigger and no more wall space anyway.

I told myself I would never get another lens. But then I got a Sigma 100 - 400 zoom for birds and (for example) bison under the Spanish Peaks on Ted Turner's ranch. But I mostly carry it in the car and don't go far from the road. It's a great lens, but still I use the single Sony zoom for almost everything.

That's enough from me.

For the past few weeks, ever since your 40mm Ricoh GR post, I've been thinking about sending you an email in which I'd beg you to try out the standard zoom kit: 16-35, 24-70, and 70-200. I know those boring lenses aren't your thing but they are the lenses you need.

Bloom where you're planted.

One tends to forget that a slow zoom doesn't work well indoors. That's where fast primes shin. A f2.8 zoom on full frame or APSC is the minimum indoors without using flash.

When I am out photographing I usually carry my camera in my hand. The (excellent) Sony 24-105 was definitely too heavy after half an hour, even if it was the f/4 version. So I now use primes and do the (limited) zooming in post production.

(With my Apple iPhone 12 camera I never use the so-called zoom function, which in effect is not zooming but cropping. Cropping is better done at home on the computer screen.)

Anyway I find zooms much too intrusive for people shots.

I love all the Olympus lenses I've used, but especially the 12-100.

I recently got back into the Nikon stuff with a Z body and it is a great machine but I already miss those tiny little m3/4rds lenses ... and might just end up using both kinds of equipment. Which is a bit dumb.

My...My. In a period of 40 years, I have went from 2 Linhof's with 75mm to 300mm prime lenses for my studio and location work to an Olympus EM1 with the 12-100 zoom. If I need a out of focus background, I pop on the 45 f1.8. How Liberating is that! Don't tell anybody...Right now we are shooting for a iconic high end Home Furnishing Brand. The Principals and the Art Directors have never questioned me on this modest equipment I use. They are too busy liking the results.

I think size and weight is a major factor in this discussion. About 5 years ago, I migrated away from the 2.8 zooms that I had used for 20 years. They are too heavy for the volume I'm shooting. I moved to using F4 zooms - Sony 12-24, 24-105 and 70-200. Then I typically have in that same bag a 28 or 35mm 1.8, the 55 1.8 and the 85 1.8.

If I am in an environment where I can freely roam with the primes, that is my preference. If I need shallow dof, I use the primes. If in low light, I use the primes.

The problem for me is going indoors. Staying outside: yes, great, a zoom is fun. Going indoors: all of a sudden it’s just too slow, unless I use a fast zoom, and on Fuji the 16-55 is more than I want to carry. The Fuji 18-55 solves the problem because it’s small and f/2.8 on the wide end. But the focal range isn’t huge; I’d rather just use a fast prime (or two). So, I remain a prime guy.

It's good discipline to sometimes go out with a prime, just to practice finding useful images to make at that magnification. Sometimes, I hike with a big-heavy camera (Pentax 645z) and just use the 55mm "normal" lens just to reduce weight (and to preserve weather resistance). I will miss both short and long focal lengths, but I always manage to get worthwhile images. I can carry that camera in hand for hours at a time.

The wide-angle zoom (28-45) for that camera is simply superb, but it is indeed a beast. The mid-focal zoom (45-85) is nearly as excellent and much lighter, and does not overlap with the mid-telephoto zoom (80-160). If traveling and with limited space, these would be the three I'd take, on the assumption that I'll always take a tripod somehow. In practice, though, it's often a mix: 28-45, 55, 120 and 200, which provide more carrying flexibility for whatever activities pop up, and really don't take any more space. (The 120 does double-duty as a macro lens.)

Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't. I doubt I could live with a kit that didn't include both primes and zooms.

As for superzooms, the only 4:1 zoom I have is the excellent 24-105 for my Canon 5DII. But 4:1 is pushing it for me--some I've tried can't do it well, and the ones that can are really expensive. In that, I'm a victim of my commitment to larger sensors, I think. And zoom lenses with 5:1 or larger zoom ranges are often targeted to consumer buyers, at least the last time I paid attention.

"While the Olympus 12-100mm f4 is very good in many respects, "

. . . it has a fatal flaw for me. Closest focus is at the wide end; troublesome perspective and the lens, even sans hood, tends to shadow subjects.

I spent three weeks on a trip to Bhutan, swapping with a friend the Oly 12-100/4 and the PanaLeica 12-60/2.8-4*. I just could not bond with the Oly, and sold it when I got back. The FL gap from 60-100 mm to my 100-400 is less annoying than using the Oly 12-100.

I use the PanaLeica all the time.

* Faster and optically better than the Panasonic 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 you mention above.

When It was time for the renewal of my EM5 based system, my choice came down to the EM1iii + 12-100 and the Nikon Z6/7 with the 24-200 for travel and hiking.

I was surprised to discover they weigh about the same, so in the end it was a no contest win for the Z system due to the much better image quality the FF sensor delivers.

The 24-200 was bought as a casual photography lens and I had no great expectations concerning this lens. It's job was to record my hikes in the mountains and family trips out.

But I have found it to be a brilliant lens, far better than my expectations. It is almost glued to one of my Z7 bodies. I have a 14-30 that lives on the other and these two lenses are about all I carry these days,unless I am doing architecture, where the D810 and my shift lenses gets added to the camera bag.

Nikon Z + 24-200, highly recommended.

Since I bought the Sony A6600 and the 16-55/2.8 lens, I've rarely used anything else.

[From the Amazon page: "From the Manufacturer: A compact, large-aperture APS-C standard zoom for users who want a small, lightweight system that provides advanced control as well as outstanding image quality. This 16-55mm (24-82.5 mm full-frame equiv.) standard zoom lens weighs in at only 494g. The advanced G lens design suppress abortion, reflections, flare and ghosting, while the 9-blade circular aperture contributes to gorgeous bokeh. It incorporates the same XD (Extreme Dynamic) Linear Motor technology found in the Full-frame G Master series to obtain fast, precise, quiet autofocus and tracking."

I thought I'd seen everything, but I've never heard of a lens suppressing abortion before! :-P --Mike]

Yes, zooms for things I don't control. Including things changing fast enough that I can't change lenses or sometimes even bodies that fast. Women on wheels spinning around the track at 20 MPH or so, for example!

Used to be, zooms for slides, where you projected the original so you didn't get to crop later. I think that was an amateur thing; pro slides for publication did get post-processing.

Also, zooms for video often. The framing has to be precise, and often zooming in or out during recording is useful.

Also, let's not forget, it was zooms for 35mm. Zooms for medium format were much rarer and didn't come along in any number until later. Zooms for large format (sheet film) were unheard of (I have a niggling bit of memory there may have been one or two at some point).

Jim Henry has surfaced the lesser of two problems with primes, "Also, in many places, changing lenses will introduce dust onto the sensor which will need attention from time to time. Or edit time spent in removing the little dots."

With my Oly bodies, not a big deal. With Panny and Sony, at best an annoyance. Just cleaned a Sony sensor last night.

The greater one, for me, is that stuff moves!

This bird flew over our heads, landed briefly, refused to pose for a front shot, but looked back over it's shoulder, then took off again. If I have a short lens on the camera, no shot! 400 mm = 800 mm eq on µ4/3.

The last thing I shot before this bird was a bumble bee. I'm a very eclectic photographer in the field. Wide shot, tele shot, close-up, distant, all randomly interspersed. That day, I was carrying E-M1 II with Oly 100-400 and GX9 with PLeica 12-60. Zooms are the only way.

I thought I'd seen everything, but I've never heard of a lens suppressing abortion before! :-P --Mike]

Yep, we never make mastikes! ;-)

The Olympus 12-100 is indeed a wonderful lens. I put it on one of my E-M1 II bodies and never took it off. I got most of the 200+ photos for a book project using that lens, and the publisher's graphics folks had no complaints. Now that I've switched over to Nikon Z I've done the same thing with their equivalent 24-200 on one of my Z5 bodies. No regrets so far.

A zoom is indispensible if I am shooting a once-off non-repeatable event (e.g. a wedding) for someone else and especially if for money. It becomes my responsibility not to miss the shot. But when Otherwise, shooting for myself, I prefer fixed lens cameras for IQ, reduction in weight and just personal preference. My latest personal "lightweight kit" is a Leica Q2 a Sigma Merrill DP3; the heavyweight version adds a DP2. If I miss the shot, tough teddies. Since I shoot both the Sigma's with a clip-on OVF zone/guess manual-focused, or by estimating the central auto-focus point, I miss plenty. But the quality of the hits make up for them.

The original reason for zooms was convenience - to have one lens replace a number of lenses, with the tradeoff being lower image quality and slower apertures. When I started using them 50 years ago, I typically limited their use to telephotos and kept a 28/35 wide angle prime as my normal lens.Now it's two zooms, short and long.
In the digital era, if you mate a manufacturer's own zoom with their bodies, digital processing will correct for many of the imaging issues of zooms. But in the modern lenses, computer-assisted design and advanced optical materials correct many of those issues before correction by the camera.
I've written here before, I have used zooms for so long that I find myself frustrated by a single focal length lens.
But for you Mike, it's probably a bit like your preference for manual transmission cars - you have probably not spent sufficient time with a modern automatic transmission and you don't live in an urban traffic area where you learn to appreciate their convenience - and find out they get better gas mileage. If you drove a lot here in LA, you might think differently.
Perhaps you should try a more realistic version of your 1C1L1Y challenge - for only a month - with a zoom. Or even a week.

BTW, if the quality of optics bothers you, here is an example of what the Nikon Z 16-50 kit lens can do.

While getting to know the camera, I took this photo looking south from the mountains at Will Rogers Historical Park looking South toward LAX - 12mi/20km away through LA smog.

Showing my age here but when I was exclusively shooting film I did not own a zoom.
I attribute this to lingering trauma associated with getting stuck with a first generation Nikon 43-86. This lens did psychic damage to an entire generation of photographers. A Diana camera dipped in pigeon crap would be sharper and also probably flare less.
However in 2005 when I jumped into digital with a D70 it came with a lovely 18 to 70 zoom and software fixed any of it's bad habits. Later I added a 70-210 f4 AF Nikkor and it also excellent. When I upgraded to a D7100 I added a Tokina 11-16 and it too is a fine performer.
These three seem to serve all my needs pretty well and they fit in a nice small bag.
But as good as they are none inspire the admiration I feel for some classic primes like the 80mm 2.8 Planar, 50mm Distagon and the 105 2.5 Nikkor.

For the type of situations I was in during my photo career, I shot most corporate/annual report, magazine work, etc. with a Hasselblad and seemed to literally do most of the work with an 80mm and 150mm. I originally had the classic 50mm, 80mm, 150mm Hasselblad "kit", and bought a 250mm when the 150mm just did NOT seem long enough. I never used the 50mm. After Hasselblad came out with the 180mm, It was pretty easy to see that the "kit" I really needed was the 60mm, 100mm, and 180mm; and if I had stayed in that end of the business longer, vs. concentrating on sheet film / product, that's what I would have changed around to.

Those who talk about extremes here are really correct, tho, especially when it comes to different viewpoints and effects. Back in the day, for 35mm, people seemed to be trying to build a perfect 35mm to 85mm zoom; which for me would have been a "money" lens that I would have been able to do 95% of my work with (I used to have a Tamron of this that was pretty sharp).

Today, this seems to have been replaced by the 24mm to 75mm, which is just too short for a "one zoom" mentality. A lens like a 35mm/85mm would be "it", but then to be supported by a 20mm wide, and a 400mm long! When I need longer or shorter than that 35/85, I need REALLY long or short!

It's funny because the M4/3rd's kit lens is 14mm to 42 mm, and an OK lens for sharpness, but I lust for a 16mm/17mm to 42mm/45mm f/2.8 lens as the one zoom I would keep on the body at all times. It's far easier to make a sharp lens that doesn't go wider than the 35mm equ. of 35/38mm and a lot of pro video camera lenses have the widest focal length of a 35mm equ. of about 38mm because of this.

Switched back (yes, 2nd time here) to Fuji and back to APS-C for the portability. Re-bought primes and love the 56mm (85mm FF equiv) and a shortie (16mm or 23mm) as a pairings that ease regret of the one-with-everything initiatives. Still do those, but finding I'm mostly shooting zooms - again in pairs. With the long end of all the 18-to-whatevers unable to fill frames at distances where I'm stuck separated by water, valleys, buildings etc. that my feet literally cannot cross, and I'm loving the XF 70-300mm coupled with the 16-80mm F4 for everything else. Sweet two-somes are great walk-arounds!

The 10-24mm is a shade wide but great when you need to grab a cloud AND a foreground rock. Maybe it happens once every decade, but it does, and so great as it's supposed to be, the 8-16mm isn't on my list and mega-wide more a special effect in my case... like better on a 4X5 view camera.

So to put a hand or headstand on it, I'm thinking the REAL question should be more about which primes to keep: the 80mm macro (I don't have yet)? The 56mm 'cause I love it? and then something short like the 23mm? And will the dispose-it thing fund the 80mm macro, or just end up getting rebought later for a 3rd time? And is that really a risk? or is it smart given Fuji's drift toward upgrading the XF lenses? Ouch.. may need to carry some Advil too I guess.

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